In Greek mythology, Cassandra of Troy was gifted with the power of prophecy—and cursed that no one would believe her. She was a tragic figure, her wailings of death and destruction ignored even as they came to pass.
If you follow bloggers and news out of China, you are not surprised by the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. If you follow the news out of Italy and compare it with Taiwan and South Korea, you know that the United States health care system will be overrun in two weeks with COVID-19 cases—just like Italy.
As soon as you figure this out, you get on the phone or social media and tell everyone to stay home as much as possible. You share everything from charts to interactive data that can’t be denied. You argue with your dad when he won’t cancel a trip. You yell at your best friend M when she says flights are cheap and she wants to come visit. You warn folks that the more people who go out, the more people will die. You write angry, pleading letters to state officials and School Boards, asking them to close down everything.
You are NOT everyone’s favorite person.
But you don’t care. You’re trying to avert disaster, just like Cassandra, who told the foolish Trojans not to bring the damned horse into the city.
You are a COVID-19 Cassandra.
Sadly, just like Cassandra, many people do not believe you.
Even though you are using math to make your case, not magic.
Your President holds rallies and repeatedly says that the Coronavirus threat is nominal, “under control,” and the rate of infection is going down. When he finally acts, it’s too little, too late.
Idiots on TV insist it’s just a bad flu.
Hipsters in New York City crowd into restaurants and bars as they have always done.
Your own husband’s employer, a massive company with a huge campus, discovers that one of their employees has been exposed to COVID-19. They send him home. But his coworkers? The ones who’ve spent the last week in the same building, a building with no windows? All those potentially infected coworkers are sent to other office buildings while the original building is sanitized—potentially infecting hundreds of others, including your own husband, who does not have the best lungs to begin with. All employees are expected to continue working.
You aren’t the only COVID-19 Cassandra, of course. There are plenty of other well-informed, shouty people who also follow the news and believe in math. They yell alongside you on Twitter, Facebook, or even city balconies.
You cheer them on as they attempt to talk sense and safety into Boomer Parents addicted to Fox News.
Sometimes, the Cassandras succeed. Your dad cancels his trip (thanks, Dad). Your friend stays home (good job, M, sorry we can’t quarantine together). Your Big Brother starts reading the news and is “officially freaked out” enough to stay home and worry about the onslaught that’s about to hit your Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister (pay more attention next time, dork).
You rejoice in every school closure, even as you whimper over being trapped with an energetic youngster for the foreseeable future.
But so many still won’t listen.
So you commiserate with your fellow Cassandra converts over the stupidity of your fellow humans.
You wish that COVID-19 would only infect those willfully ignorant, or too selfish, or too privileged to care. Like your own horrible President.
It will hit those Americans on the margins, who have to work to survive, who can’t work remotely.
And just like Cassandra of Troy, you will only be able to watch disaster unfold.